What is best practice in careers education?

An outline of the evidence.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

An important pillar of the evidence base of career education practice is formed by a series of meta-analyses of career intervention studies published over the last 30 years. These studies have measured the impact of career interventions and explored the influence of different intervention methods and approaches (Baker and Taylor 1998; Brown and Roche 2016; Brown et al. 2003; Brown and Ryan Krane 2000; Oliver and Spokane 1988; Whiston, Sexton, and Lasoff 1998; Whiston, Brecheisen, and Stephens 2003; Langher, Nannini, and Caputo 2018; Ozlem 2019).

In these studies, what makes a “career intervention” is defined broadly, as any effort made to improve clients’ career development, which is most often measured as career maturity, career decision-making, vocational identity, or perceptions of environmental factors. Career interventions can be individual or group counselling, workshops, career development classes, the provision of career information and self-help resources, or computer-based or -assisted activities.

These meta-analyses have consistently found that career interventions do indeed help people, to a moderate but statistically significant degree. In the most recent study, Whiston et al. (2017) reported that on average, participants in a career intervention had a 60% chance of attaining a higher outcome measure than members of the control group who didn’t participate in the intervention, a finding consistent with those of previous studies. These studies have also found that repeated interventions are more effective than one-off interventions, group interventions are almost as effective as individual interventions, and interventions that are facilitated by an expert career development practitioner are more effective than those that are not.

Critical ingredients of career interventions

In a particularly influential study, Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) identified five critical ingredients that had a significant impact on the effectiveness of career interventions:

  • written exercises
  • individualised interpretations and feedback
  • information on the world of work
  • modelling by more competent others
  • support from social networks

They found that critical ingredients are most effective when combined, so that interventions that included three or more ingredients were much more effective than those that included only one or two.

Whiston et al. (2017) partially replicated Brown and Ryan Krane’s (2000) findings, supporting the importance of written workbooks, personalised feedback, and world of work information but adding three new critical ingredients that were found to have a greater impact than the original five:

  • counsellor support
  • values clarification
  • psychoeducation (exploring the process of making and working toward decisions).

It is impossible to compare the critical ingredients of Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) with those of Whiston et al. (2017) directly, because Brown and Ryan Krane’s (2000) study did not report the effect sizes or statistical significance of each critical ingredient. This limited replication of the critical ingredients does not show that critical ingredients are not valid as signposts toward career intervention best practice. Rather, it enriches the value of critical ingredients as key approaches to career interventions, while also highlighting that practitioners and researchers need to treat them with critical caution.

Career education best practices

These studies aggregate decades of research and hundreds of career intervention program evaluations. Taken together, they can be used to inform an evidence-based model best practice in the provision of careers and employability learning:

  • repeated interventions are more effective than one-off interventions;
  • interventions facilitated by a career development expert are more effective than self-directed or computer-mediated interventions;
  • group interventions are almost as effective as individual interventions;
  • Structured group interventions, such as workshops, are more effective than unstructured group interventions, such as group counselling;
  • interventions that include critical ingredients (written exercises, individualised interpretations and feedback, labour market information, modelling from experts, and support from social network, counsellor support, values clarification, and psychoeducation are more effective, particularly in combination with each other, than those that do not;
  • interventions should be targeted to the needs of specific client groups and incorporate relevant career development theories in full.

Putting it to work

Obviously, this evidence base should be used by reflexive career education practitioners as they design, implement, and evaluate their own projects. It can contribute to a “curricular vision” (Bransford etal, 2012, p. 35) of career education which guides decisions about what kinds of transformative career learning outcomes we want for our students and how we can best facilitate them.

But just as importantly, this evidence-base should also be used by career educators to advocate for our profession and support efforts to assert our expertise in our collaborative and consultative roles. It can be used to justify the space we need to take in the curriculum, our need to have repeated exposure to students, and the time we need to develop relationships with students, promote social learning, and give effective feedback.

Careers and employability educators owe it to their students and themselves to base their work on, and evaluate it against, evidence such as this, and to let their institutional colleagues and communities know all about it.


Baker, Stanley B., and John G. Taylor. 1998. Effects of Career Education Interventions: A Meta-Analysis. The Career Development Quarterly 46 (4): 376-85. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-0045.1998.tb00714.x.

Bransford, John, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Pamela LePage. 2012. Introduction. In Preparing Teachers for a Changing World?: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do, edited by Linda Darling-Hammond and John Bransford, 1-39. Somerset, England: Wiley.

Brown, Steven D., and Meghan Roche. 2016. The Outcomes of Vocational Interventions: Thirty (Some) Years Later. Journal of Career Assessment 24 (1): 26-41. https://doi.org/10.1177/1069072715579666.

Brown, Steven D., and Nancy E. Ryan Krane. 2000. Four (or Five) Sessions and a Cloud of Dust: Old Assumptions and New Observations About Career Counseling. In Handbook of Counseling Psychology, edited by Steven D. Brown and Robert W. Lent, 3rd ed., 740-66. New York, NY: Wiley.

Brown, Steven D., Nancy E. Ryan Krane, Jessica Brecheisen, Paul Castelino, Ivan Budisin, Matthew Miller, and Laurie Edens. 2003. Critical Ingredients of Career Choice Interventions: More Analyses and New Hypotheses. Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (3): 411-28. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0001-8791(02)00052-0.

Langher, Viviana, Valentina Nannini, and Andrea Caputo. 2018. What Do University or Graduate Students Need to Make the Cut? A Meta-Analysis on Career Intervention Effectiveness. ECPS - Educational Cultural and Psychological Studies , no. 17. https://doi.org/10.7358/ecps-2018-017-lang.

Oliver, Laurel W., and Arnold R. Spokane. 1988. Career-Intervention Outcome: What Contributes to Client Gain? Journal of Counseling Psychology 35 (4): 447-462. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cou/35/4/447/.

Ozlem, Ulas-Kilic. 2019. The Effects of Career Interventions on University Students’ Levels of Career Decision-Making Self-Efficacy: A Meta-Analytic Review. Australian Journal of Career Development 28 (3): 223-33. https://doi.org/10.1177/1038416219857567.

Whiston, Susan C., Briana K. Brecheisen, and Joy Stephens. 2003. Does Treatment Modality Affect Career Counseling Effectiveness? Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (3): 390-410. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0001-8791(02)00050-7.

Whiston, Susan C., Yue Li, Nancy Goodrich Mitts, and Lauren Wright. 2017. Effectiveness of Career Choice Interventions: A Meta-Analytic Replication and Extension. Journal of Vocational Behavior 100: 175-84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2017.03.010.

Whiston, Susan C., Thomas L. Sexton, and David L. Lasoff. 1998. Career-Intervention Outcome: A Replication and Extension of Oliver and Spokane (1988). Journal of Counseling Psychology 45 (2): 150-65. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.45.2.150.

Michael Healy
Careers and employability learning expert

I am Head of Careers and Employability at Career Ahead and doctoral student at the University of Southern Queensland. I am passionate about promoting transformational careers and employability learning, particularly using social, narrative, and dialogical methods.